Seeking Jewish at College
by Eric Berger, Jewish Exponent Staff
This article originally appeared on October 10, 2012 in the Jewish Exponent.
When Jason Shavel, a senior at Council Rock High School North, was preparing for college visits last year, he had no qualms about calling a Hillel director and asking to meet during his visit to campus. But then, he thought, why not flip the script and have Hillel members and staff come to students?
And so last spring, he started calling schools in the Northeast region to tell them he was putting together a Jewish college fair and hoped they would attend. No one he spoke with had heard of a similar event.
"I don't think people walked around and said, 'We need a Jewish college fair,' but I think I created an awareness" of the lack of resources for Jewish students contemplating which college to attend," he said.
Hillel provides an online guide to Jewish life on campuses, but Shavel's fair offers students live sources of information.
The fair, scheduled for Oct. 14, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at Shir Ami in Newtown, is like any other for prospective college students -- schools will arrange their tables with brochures and giveaways -- except that the emphasis will be Jewish life on campus.
Shavel told schools he preferred that they send current students involved in a Hillel or an organization, such as a Jewish fraternity, rather than a recruiter. In most instances, they agreed to do so.
That said, students can attend the fair and ask general questions of the some 10 schools slated to be represented or about how their Hillels function.
"If you ask a student at Hillel what they do on a Saturday night, they're probably not going to talk about Havdalah services," Shavel said. "They're going to tell you about where they go with their friends."
The schools expected to attend include Allegheny College, Lehigh University, Dickinson College, Penn State, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania and Colgate University.
Growing up with three older siblings, Shavel has witnessed college visits and dormitory move-ins several times over. He said he's actually been looking at schools since he was 11 years old. His first choice these days is Dartmouth College.
His family is not especially religious, he said, but his older siblings gravitated toward the youth group at Shir Ami, SHAFTY, a chapter of North American Federation of Temple Youth. He followed their lead in joining and then he became the group's president.
"As president, I wanted to do something to help with the next step after high school," he said.
Planning the fair has served as a lesson in the difference between, "Oh, we'd love to," and actually signing on the dotted line, said Shavel. When he first started organizing the event, more than 30 schools said they wanted to participate, but then holiday scheduling and other considerations whittled the number down to one-third of the original number.
Still, he's satisfied with what he's accomplished.
"I feel like every Jewish parent in the country would be interested in hearing about this," he said.
"My parents love the idea that I will be active Jewishly in college."